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US Election Race Turns Nasty as Candidates Trade Barbs

  • Richard Green
  • Ken Schwartz

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waits for a subway train at the 161St - Yankee Stadium stop in the Bronx borough of New York, April 7, 2016.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waits for a subway train at the 161St - Yankee Stadium stop in the Bronx borough of New York, April 7, 2016.

The two U.S. Democratic presidential candidates, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, are feuding over who is qualified to be the country's leader, trading contentious barbs Thursday even as they made a nominal effort to cool the rhetoric between them.

"She has attacked me for being unqualified, and if I am attacked for being unqualified, I will respond in kind," Sanders told reporters in Philadelphia, a major eastern city where Democrats are holding a presidential nominating election April 26. "I'm not going to get beaten up."

Clinton, in New York, criticized Sanders for his lack of details in promoting his agenda aimed at curbing the financial clout of Wall Street, saying, "I think it is important to tell people how you're going to get things done. Don't make promises you can't keep."

But even as they sniped at each other, Sanders said, "I do have respect for Secretary Clinton."

For her part, Clinton said she did not know why Sanders is saying she is unqualified to be president, but would take him "anytime" over the two front-running Republican presidential contenders, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump.

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders greets supporters at a campaign rally in Philadelphia, Penn., April 6, 2016.

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders greets supporters at a campaign rally in Philadelphia, Penn., April 6, 2016.

Try to disqualify

Sanders voiced his anger at political media reports that Clinton's campaign plans to try to "disqualify" him with its campaign attacks in upcoming state nominating contests in New York, Pennsylvania and elsewhere in their months-long campaign for delegates to July's Democratic national presidential nominating convention. Clinton holds a substantial delegate lead over Sanders, but he has won six of the last seven nominating contests.

Clinton, the country's top diplomat from 2009 to 2013, launched an attack Wednesday against Sanders based on an interview he gave to the New York Daily News this week, in which he failed to explain how he would break up the nation's biggest financial institutions. Clinton told an audience at a Philadelphia job center that a candidate should do more than deliver "lots of arm-waving and hot rhetoric" when talking about his agenda.

At a Sanders campaign rally later Wednesday, he said Clinton wasn't qualified to become president for numerous reasons, including her vote for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq when she was a senator from New York, and her past support for free trade deals.

Clinton took aim at Sanders for voting for legislation to provide legal immunity to gun manufacturers over deadly gun violence, such as the 2012 massacre of 26 schoolchildren and educators in Newtown, Connecticut. When asked by CBS News whether he should apologize to the parents of the Newtown victims, Sanders said Clinton might want to apologize for "the families who lost their loved ones in Iraq."

Sanders's victory in Tuesday's Wisconsin primary has given him fresh momentum heading into the April 19 primary in New York, although Clinton holds a double-digit lead in pre-election surveys in the state.

She is hoping for a decisive win that will seal the nomination for her, while Sanders is aiming for an upset victory that he hopes will convince convention delegates that he can win the November general election.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally, April 6, 2016, in Bethpage, N.Y.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally, April 6, 2016, in Bethpage, N.Y.

New York values

Meanwhile, Trump is brushing off his big loss to Cruz in the Republican primary in Wisconsin.

Trump mocked Cruz during a large rally outside New York City Wednesday, saying only about 100 people turned out in the Bronx borough to hear Cruz speak, compared to the thousands who appeared at his rally. There also were a group of protesters outside the venue where Trump spoke.

Several protesters also greeted Cruz, who has said voters are tired of "New York values." Although the conservative firebrand says that remark is directed toward liberal politicians, many New Yorkers see it as an insult. Cruz called his landslide victory in Wisconsin, where he won 36 of the state's 42 delegates to the national convention, a "turning point" in the Republican race.

New York is Trump's home state, and polls ahead of the party primary give him a huge lead over Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich. And Cruz still badly trails Trump in the all-important delegate count. Cruz would have to take nearly 90 percent of the remaining available delegates to claim the Republican nomination before the convention starts.

Trump also has the difficult task of needing to win 60 percent of the remaining delegates in the 16 states yet to vote to take the nomination before the convention convenes, making it quite possible there will be a contested Republican convention, the first for the party since 1976.

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